FIRST IT WAS A LONG-STANDING ISSUE that no amount of dicussion could resolve. Then it was an idea–a gleam in Jack Gould's eye. Finally, in 1994, it was real, solid, and shining on the banks of the Chicago River. The Gleacher Center, the downtown gateway to the GSB and the University of Chicago, stands both as a symbolic presence, a hub of academic activity, and a rallying place for alumni. And on March 4, it was finally dedicated in a style worthy of the grand accomplishment that it is.

"Your presence here tonight reflects the power of an idea," Dean Robert S. Hamada told 95 of the building's strongest supporters who gathered for cocktails and a festive dinner. "The Gleacher Center stands here because you bought into the idea."

“The building opened four years ago , but I said then that I would not celebrate or dedicate the building until it had a proper name,” Hamada noted. Today, the center is known for an alumnus who willingly gave his time and money but only reluctantly gave his name to the building–Eric J. Gleacher, ’67.

When Hamada asked for the $15 million pledge that would become the Gleacher Challenge, "I wasn't really interested in having my name on the building,” explained the chairman of Gleacher NatWest Inc. Hamada convinced him that it was important that the GSB’s presence downtown should bear the name of an important graduate.

Gleacher’s gift was both a thank-you to the school that started him on a path to success and an act of faith. “When I agreed to the gift, I had seen the building but had never been in it. I have to admit, it’s an incredible thing. It has really transformed the presence of the university in the city of Chicago and even on the international scene.”

That was the whole idea, according to John P. Gould, who shared with the audience the story of the center's long conception and birth during his ten years as dean. “It started out as an issue of what to do about the 190 building,” Gould said. As early as the 1970s it was apparent that something needed to be done about the crowded, deteriorating home to the part-time programs.

“Within a week of announcing in April 1983 that I would become dean in July, someone gave me a call to say, ‘Let’s get together and talk about the downtown building,’” Gould recalled.

Endless discussions ensued, but none of the options proposed seemed to work. “Finally I realized we were asking the wrong questions. What we really needed to ask was, ‘What should we do to have a presence in Chicago? What does the GSB and the university need to move into the future?’ Then it became obvious that we were looking at a new building that would serve as a gateway.”

It fills that role magnificently, said Hugo Sonnenschein, university president. He noted that Gould followed the late, great Chicago architect Daniel Burnham’s advice to “make no little plans, for they have no magic to stir people’s blood and probably will not be realized.” Supporters inspired by the GSB’s big, bold plans generously backed them. The result “is a structure that will endure long after we’ve gone, a monument to those who made it possible and to the university itself,” Sonnenschein said. “Tonight we’re here celebrating the triumph of high hopes and big plans.”

Dedicating a permanent symbol made Gleacher reflect on longevity, a trait he associates with the university and the GSB. Eugene Fama and Merton Miller are still teaching the finance course Gleacher took as a student 31 years before, and “it’s still one of the most famous and influential courses on earth.” Hamada, who joined the faculty about the time Gleacher enrolled, is entering his second term as dean. “That’s longevity,” Gleacher said. “I myself spent a very short time here–just a year and a half, because I was in a hurry to get on with my life–but it’s one of the things in my life that had a tremendously profound effect on me.”

Gleacher started building his own tradition of longevity with the university almost immediately after graduating, returning to recruit new investment bankers. Today he is a trustee of the university with a special reason for pride; his daughter Sarah, seated beside him at the dedication, is about to graduate from Pritzker Medical School. “There’s something really special when one of your kids comes here, thrives, and does well. I hope her kids will too.”

Sonnenschein, Hamada, and Gould thanked all the people that made this idea a reality. Topping that extensive list were former university president Hanna Gray and the trustees; Dan Tepke and Blair Archambeau, ’92, the staff that moved the idea from blueprints to steel to completion; and many donors, including those in the room. Gleacher, in turn, said that Gould “gets 150 percent of the credit for this building existing.”

For Gould, “It’s especially gratifying to me to walk in any time of day or night and find so many people actively using the place. It’s an idea that has become a real building but it’s an idea I still dream about and love.”

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